Till the End of Tom by Gillian Roberts

Till the End of Tom by Gillian Roberts
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (160 Pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Traditionally, Old Philadelphians keep a low profile. They associate with one another and leave life as discreetly as they have lived it. So Philly Prep English teacher Amanda Pepper, who thinks her only current problems are keeping her well-meaning family from hijacking her wedding, is understandably stunned to discover a perfect specimen of the species dying at the foot of the school’s marble staircase.

It is anybody’s guess what led to Tomas Severin’s apparent fall and, indeed, why he was in the building in the first place. More questions arise when Amanda enters her otherwise empty classroom and finds a take-out cup of herbal tea laced with the party drug her students call roofies. Why would a middle-aged Philadelphian have a date-rape drug in his tea? Why does he have Amanda’s name scribbled in his pocket notebook?

Hired by a member of the Severin family household, Amanda and her fiancé, C.K. Mackenzie, realize that many people felt their lives would improve if Tom’s life ended–-making it seemingly impossible to determine who’d been harassing Severin with threatening phone calls. Tom Severin leaves behind angry ex-wives, one recently dropped fiancée, and the current (about to be exed) Mrs. Tomas Severin. As secrets are unearthed, and cruelties old and new revealed, it’s apparent that the end of Tom is just the beginning of the grief he caused.

Amanda Pepper, an English teacher at Philly Prep, finds a dying man at the foot of the school’s marble staircase, and once again, Amanda is in the thick of a major mystery. Tomas Severin dies and only his aged mother seems distressed. He leaves behind numerous ex-wives, a current wife, a current fiancée, and even a current girl friend. Amanda and her fiancée, C.K. Mackenzie, are hired by Tomas’ mother’s secretary, and soon they realize that Tomas was universally hated. His death is seen as a blessing by nearly all who knew him.

Amanda is a fully developed character and I really enjoy watching her juggle her very busy life. She spends her days coping with teenage angst as she tries to teach her students the ins and outs of English grammar and literature. As difficult as her students can be, it is obvious from her interactions with them that they really do get the fact that she cares about them. Many of her students have never before felt that caring in any productive or meaningful way. But teachers are not paid well, especially at Philly Prep, so Amanda and her fiancée, C.K., also work as private investigators to supplement their income while C.K., a retired policeman, finishes graduate school. The final element in this wonderful mystery is that Amanda and C.K. are supposed to be planning their wedding, and they are being bombarded by advice from well-meaning, but a bit over-bearing family members.

Gillian Roberts manages to weave all these elements together into a fast-paced mystery full of intrigue as the skeletons in the wealthy Severin family come to light. The characters in this novel are drawn with real skill. Not only are the main characters of Amanda and C.K. fully developed, but so are the minor characters, including the students in Amanda’s classes. Suspects abound, and the plot twists and turns before it reaches a most satisfying conclusion as Amanda solves the riddle of the mysterious death of Tomas Severin.

Once again Roberts has written an absolutely marvelous cozy mystery. This is the twelfth in the series and after discovering and really enjoying Amanda in her ninth adventure, I went back and started at the beginning. Each novel is a unique story which stands totally on its own, so don’t feel that you have to read the entire series. However, if you are like me, you’ll want to. The advantage of a series is that a skillful writer can develop the main characters over time, and that is just what happens with these stories. Till the End of Tom is a wonderful mystery in its own right, but it is also all the richer for the past history many of the characters share. The bottom line is that you can’t go wrong when you leave the detecting to Amanda Pepper.

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